Two hundred and seven child soldiers have been released by armed groups in South Sudan, part of a series of planned discharges that should see nearly 1,000 children return home over the coming months. The move, facilitated by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), follows the release of 300 children by armed groups in early February.
“No child should ever have to pick up a weapon and fight” said Mahimbo Mdoe, the head of UNICEF programmes in the country.
“For every child released, today marks the start of a new life,” he said. “We are proud to support these children as they return to their families and start to build a brighter future.”
But officials also noted that thousands more children remain in the hands of armed groups in South Sudan, in violation of international law.
This week’s discharge took place in Bakiwiri, a rural community in Western Equatoria state. The children will now undergo medical screenings and receive counselling and psychosocial support as part of the re i n te g ra ti on p rog ra m m e , s a i d UNICEF. Once home, they will also have access to vocational training as well as age-specific education services in schools and accelerated learning centres.
Their families will also be provided with three months’ worth of food assistance to support reintegration.
Those discharged – 112 boys, 95 girls – were from the South Sudan National Liberation Movement and Sudan P e o p l e ‘ s L i b e r a t i o n A r m y – In Opposition.
The children, scarred by what they
were made to do in the armed groups
and what they saw, were happy to
be going home.